Gina Mahalek: Very briefly, what is Liberated Threads about?
Tanisha C. Ford: Liberated Threads is about how everyday women turned getting dressed into a powerful political act that transformed the cultural and political landscape of the 1960s and 70s around the world. Often, when we study the social movements of the mid-twentieth century, we focus on policy issues, the fight to integrate public spaces, and big events, such as marches and protests. But, in Liberated Threads, I argue that we need to focus on everyday acts such as getting dressed in order to understand how everyday people engaged in movement politics. Most people were not involved in formal political organizing. They were not members of Black Freedom movement organizations. But, they were engaged in the fashion culture of the time. I wanted to explore the various ways that fashion and style connected people to the global movement for black freedom. Continue Reading Interview: Tanisha C. Ford on Black Women, Style, and Politics in the 1960s and ’70s
Taylor Humin: This is the first full-length work written about Flo Kennedy; meanwhile, Gloria Steinem, her contemporary and fellow activist, is a household name. Why isn’t Kennedy better known?
Sherie M. Randolph: Despite Kennedy’s willingness to seek the media’s spotlight, the media often ignored her leadership in the women’s movement. She was black and middle-aged, and her image did not fit neatly with the media’s fascination with the “young,” “hip” new women’s movement of the 1960s and 1970s. The media had a bias toward stereotypically attractive women (read white and young) and often preferred to center or elevate in the press those women who fit this category (Gloria Steinem and Ti-Grace Atkinson, for example).
Often the media coverage of Kennedy’s actions did not mention that she was even a member (or an early or founding member) of organizations such as NOW or that she was a feminist. Instead, Kennedy was often portrayed as an organizer who was working alongside NOW or other feminist groups, but not as a leader of these organizations and actions. Some scholars have repeated this bias by ignoring or under-analyzing black feminism and Flo Kennedy.
Kennedy was well known to most radical activists during the 1960s and 1970s because she was a lawyer, fundraiser, and very skilled at drawing media attention to her causes. As a media-savvy activist, she was skillful in gaining the media’s attention for her actions; which ranged from pee-ins to protest Harvard Law School’s lack of bathroom facilities for women to marches down Fifth Avenue to protest the assassination of Martin Luther King. She relied on street theater to draw the notice of the media (and therefore advertisers, etc.) and potential organizers. Yet, until my book, history has forgotten her. Continue Reading Interview: Sherie M. Randolph on Black Feminist Radical Florynce “Flo” Kennedy
2014 was marked by protests across the nation insisting that Black Lives Matter. Many decry the justice system, which has failed to indict officers and vigilantes who have killed unarmed black children, while girl victims receive little notice in the press. We have an urgent need to tell and listen to deeper, more nuanced stories about these youth and other youth of color who remain either invisible or hyper-visible in marked, stereotyped ways. Continue Reading Lauren J. Silver: Beyond Snapshot Stories: The Power in Youth Representation
The way in which bullfighters put themselves repeatedly on the path of a half-ton of rage, shifting at the last moment, is shocking. I am especially awed by the tribute of the bits of their own flesh left on those horns. It makes me wonder what we historians are increasingly giving up by finding our sources in air-conditioned rooms with lockers and vending machines, where the only tribute we pay is a cordial email to a helpful archivist, who then gets a credit in the standard acknowledgements page. Remotely accessible digitized collections are already making some of our work possible from the convenience of coffee shops with Wi-Fi. Continue Reading Raúl Necochea López: When Historians’ Sources Get Demanding
Winning respect for female elders was an issue that cut across the color line separating black and white feminists in nineteenth-century America. The white transcendentalist Margaret Fuller urged women to cast aside their fear of becoming “old maids” and cultivate talents rather than youthful beauty. Sharing the same goal, the black abolitionist Frances Harper crafted poetry and fiction centered on a new type of heroine, one “not vainly striving to keep her appearance of girlishness,” who dedicated herself to growing old in the service of antislavery and women’s rights. Continue Reading Corinne T. Field: Old Age was Once a Feminist Issue
The greatest misunderstanding about veiling is that it is imposed by an outside party, not willingly adopted by women. To be sure, some women are forced to veil because of parental pressures or because of the government of the country in which they live. But they are the minority, not the majority, as much of the media wants us to believe. Continue Reading Interview: Sahar Amer on ‘What Is Veiling?’
Article 163 of the Penal Code defined therapeutic abortions as those demanded by women and performed by clinicians, in consultation with a committee of their peers, “if there is no other way to save a mother’s life or avoid a permanent and severe lesion in her.” However, Peruvian authorities at the time did not answer crucial questions to make the law applicable, such as which lesions counted as permanent and severe, or what interventions should be used to cause an abortion, or how far into a pregnancy an abortion could be provoked. Continue Reading Raúl Necochea López: Therapeutic Abortion Finally Regulated in Peru after Being Legal (Kinda) for 90 Years
Recently, I took (and passed) my citizenship test, and the interviewer asked me if I had a middle name. When I said no, she asked if I wanted to change my name. Hmm, I thought, am I supposed to, to become an American? For many Americans, including those born and raised here, there’s an assumption that they must prove just how American they are. My research participants felt that way much of the time, but those who practiced certain kinds of behaviors—drinking, dating, dressing in mainstream Western fashion—felt the pressure less. Diya was relatively indistinguishable from her White American friends in terms of lifestyle, but then she came under question for just how Muslim she was. If she didn’t wear hijab, was she a nominal Muslim? Amber, a hijabi, was on the other hand perpetually being required to speak up for Muslims in classroom discussions on Islam and terrorism, or Islam and gender. Almost all of my research participants felt that because of the pervasive nature of Muslim stereotypes, they were always or often having to prove that they were really American, normal, empowered, peaceful Muslims. Continue Reading Interview: Shabana Mir on College Experiences of Muslim American Women
I asked him to recall all the people he has worked with—all his union brothers and sisters, down through the years—and count the gay ones. Almost surprised, he said there were none. Of course, he knew as well as I do that there have been many, but that they did not identify themselves as such. My task is then to convince him that their silence was not simply a choice, but rather that it was made in fear, and comes with crippling consequences. Continue Reading Anne Balay: Queer Steelworkers and Labor Unions
The image of the beautiful southern belle/lady was, by definition, racially exclusive, and many black women would have keenly felt its discriminatory power. There were occasions, however, when individuals and institutions attempted to claim the image for black women, to challenge its underlying racial assumptions and reframe its meaning. An interesting example is a photo spread that ran in Ebony magazine in 1971 entitled “Belles of the South” that featured young women from southern historically black colleges. The magazine said very explicitly that it wanted to prove that not all southern beauties were white—that black women were belles of the South, too. Continue Reading Interview: Blain Roberts on the Intersection of Beauty and Race in the South